I can still taste the barbecue from last weekend’s 4th of July cookout. We had heaps of green salad, fresh corn, roasted green chilies, grilled steak and watermelon.
Then it dawned on me: half the year is over. What happened?
First: The Review
What a year this has been. Normally optimistic New Year plans and dreams were dimmed for so many by fear and uncertainty.
I witnessed an unprecedented amount of job loss, many in my circle of friends and blog readers. A lot of businesses have been hit hard or gone under.
This year has been a tough one for my husband’s construction business. I wrote a bit about it in my book in the section on money. When I wrote the chapter in August of last year, I thought that by the time it was published that things would be back to normal.
But they haven’t returned to normal. Old normal at least. Now it is new normal: certain markets are not just skittish and slow, they are downright ghost towns. The other night, my husband’s longtime construction buddy Bob, hearing about my book, said ” I am sure your basic business advice is: whatever you do, don’t start a heavy equipment construction business!” I couldn’t agree more.
Thankfully there are some bright spots in my husband’s future with large projects due to start soon.
On the personal side, we have had Greek myth-worthy adventure this year. Three-headed emotional beasts in the form of family challenges, business challenges, sick parents and health scares have kept our eyes open and hearts beating quickly. As much as we have tried to remain strong and positive, the journey has been really difficult, as I am sure it has been for those of you who have lived similar tales of adventure.
The good news is our marriage is strong, and our family is healthy. Our sense of humor is intact. My empathy for those impacted by the economy is fierce. And as I imagine many of you out there feel about your own struggles this year, I know that we did not live through this experience for no reason. Like other really challenging periods of my life, the lessons and growth from the experience will pay dividends for years, if not decades, after the pain subsides. I like what Oprah wrote about her beef industry lawsuit experience. A prosecutor was calling her a liar and a manipulator, yelling and shaking his finger:
“The louder he yelled, the calmer I became. I got very still inside and said to myself “That is not who I am.” In that moment, the answer I had been waiting for revealed itself. I realized that whether you’re on trial or going through a trial — difficulty, pain, illness, heartache — the trial stands outside of you, flailing, ranting and raging, trying to tell you who you are.
All trials force the question: Who are you, really? And you must trust yourself to answer. It is up to each of us to get very still and say, “This is who I am.” No one else defines your life. Only you do.”
My sector of entrepreneurship/career coaching/online marketing has exploded. Everyone is realizing the need to think differently about work, and diversifying streams of income is critical for career resilience.
My book made its way into the world and the reception has been amazing. I have expanded opportunities to work with more people in my Quickstart program, and have marveled at the progress of my clients. And I have hit the road again for the first time in five years, visiting with people up-close in their own communities.
So I find myself at a wonderful personal and professional place: very tapped into the gloomy mood of the globe, yet feeling wildly optimistic and energetic. I have information and experience that can help people right here, right now. I have been saying “We are all self-employed” since 1996 and people are finally listening. So I am going to hit this half of the year with a vengeance.
Focus: The Second Half of the Year
Looking forward to the next six months, here are the five questions I am asking myself, and my answers. I encourage you to do the same:
1) What am I going to focus on?
The screaming theme that I am hearing from all corners of my market is short-term relief vs. long-term vision. Most people don’t have a ton of wiggle room to get a business off the ground, or to coast between jobs if they get laid off. So we need quick, effective, comprehensive ways to rally together and get people generating income quickly. This involves both tactical and strategic thinking, and a good framework for planning. So I will be scanning the world for tools and information, resources and successful case studies. And I will be forging connections with groups of all sizes – local, regional, national and global, to get us all talking . Some examples I am thinking of:
- Job search experts who know how to work with budding entrepreneurs who need to be their own venture capitalist for a couple of years by taking a “real” job.
- Business leaders who realize that the mafia culture days are behind us, and are willing to support employees who have small businesses on the side of their day job.
- Small business organizations, networks and social media sites that will provide support, resources and information to aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t have time to wade through extraneous information and need assistance fast.
- Online business experts who know how to mine the web for ethical, profitable pockets of money to help supplement income.
2) What am I going to improve?
Last week was a systems breaking point. It was 10:12 in the morning, and I was happily working at my computer, assured that my calendar was clear. I got a panicked email from my friend Susan Hyatt who leads Martha Beck’s coaching program that said (in her perennially cheery way, even in times of strain) “Hello, Pam, where are youuuuuuuu?” I logged on to the Martha Beck site and realized that I was supposed to be teaching a class on marketing for coaches, which I had failed to transfer into my calendar. Thankfully, I jumped on the call and the students were patiently waiting, but it was a sign from above that the time for serious help and systems had arrived.
I have been in bootstrap mode for a long time, wanting to keep my business lean and flexible, but I simply have too many irons in the fire and am missing opportunities for major growth by not hiring capable staff to manage the details of my business. I am going to re-read Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System that inspired my blog post last year. (Visiting his site to get a link, I just saw there is a free download of his book until Tuesday, July 14 here).
3) What am I going to grow?
I have been thinking about creating useful, focused e-products for a long time to supplement my book and blog, and to give some instructional design and “coaching in a box” services to people who can’t afford to pay for one-on-one coaching. I have a ton of content, mainly stored in my blog and podcast archives, which I constantly dig up and share with clients. I need to organize this into distinct products that will be easy to digest and apply. Having resources to support my growing audience, which do not all demand one-on-one time, will allow me to serve more people and jump-start more businesses.
4) What am I going to leave behind?
The last four years have been a true gift since I have been able to grow my business on a part-time basis, focusing on raising my two babies and taking care of my extended family while slowly building up a client base and a body of work. I have enjoyed the slow and steady pace, lack of stress and creativity associated with just doing whatever the hell I feel like. Now, since the kids are bigger and I am feeling ready for a new challenge, I am ready to step into a more structured business. This makes my inner rebel a bit sad since I know that it will mean I won’t have as much flexibility. But is the right move for my life now, since structure will enable growth, which will enable more impact.
5) What new thing am I going to study?
In my work with clients, I have come to understand that the killer question is not necessarily “what is the business idea?,” but rather “what is your business model?” I cannot get Sonia Simone’s Is Your Tribe Holding Your Down? Copyblogger article out of my head (which examines the “cool” social media kids who are often broke vs. the internet marketers). I know Sonia and other people like Naomi, Havi, Jonathan, Chris and Chris are studying this as well. I am hungry to find business models which combine:
- Open, truthful communication
- True passion and interest, often paired with social benefit
- Great market segmentation and solid understanding of niches
- Effective use of technology and tools to enhance and extend learning
- Use of social media for community building and marketing
- Non-slimy yet persuasive methods of selling to support a healthy business
- Streamlined systems and use of virtual resources to manage the administration of the business
I am so excited about these ideas that I can almost use two words together in the same sentence, which I promised my editor Emily I would never say again when I turned in my manuscript last year: “Next… Book.”
I am hungrily studying all kind of models used by entrepreneurs today, with the Goldilocks and the Three Bears method of discovery: Too hot (slimy, cookie-cutter or manipulative) too cold (old school, clunky) and just right (new school, creative, feasible, flexible).
I will use my own business as a Petri dish as I have done these past four years building the Escape from Cubicle Nation community and brand.
What I hope to come out with is some clear guidance for budding entrepreneurs on how to structure a new business that doesn’t cost a fortune, delivers a great living, leverages individual strengths while expanding community and allows the entrepreneurs to like what they see in the mirror in the morning.
The Wrap Up
Whew, I didn’t quite expect to write so much. I guess I had a lot brewing in my head.
What about you? Can you take a bit of time to ask your Big 5 Mid-Year Game-Changing Questions?
- What are you going to focus on? (You cannot focus on everything and make progress)
- What are you going to improve? (You cannot grow at a sustained level without making some major system improvements. Sooner or later, you will start to lose ground in the areas that have been natural strengths)
- What are you going to grow? (You have tons of knowledge/material which just needs to be refined in order to deliver powerful benefits to the world)
- What are you going to leave behind? (If you are taking on new challenges, you will have to give some things up. And those should be the ineffective/self-sabatoging parts of your life or business that hold you back from growth)
- What are you going to learn? We stay fresh and creative by learning new things. What topic or field lights you up that you haven’t devoted time to learn about?